Four Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga Dandasana is a major component of Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga. Rarely referred to by its English name, Four-Limbed Staff Pose, this pose is most commonly called "Chaturanga". The full name comes from four Sanskrit words: "Chatur" — meaning "four", "Anga" — meaning "limb", "Danda" — meaning "staff" and "Asana" — meaning "pose".
The "staff" of the pose refers to the spine — the main support system of the body. When performed correctly, the body resembles a rod or staff, with the spine in one straight line. An essential element of Sun Salutations, Chaturanga is a powerful strength-builder and arm balance.
Each time you lower correctly in Chaturanga Dandasana, you are getting stronger. Remember that as you practice. Aligning your mind to meet your body will help integrate the whole practice. Stay positive and remember how strong you are each and every time you take this pose.
Benefits of Four Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga strengthens and tones the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and lower back. It prepares the body for more challenging arm balances. Similar to a traditional push-up, it also strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, which helps to improve posture.
As part of the Sun Salutation sequence, Chaturanga is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes. It takes patience and discipline to learn how to practice the pose correctly and avoid injury. When this is accomplished, the pose is a powerful full-body toner.
Do not practice Chaturanga if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should not practice the full version of the pose — instead, lower only a few inches, or practice Plank Pose only. Chaturanga requires a great deal of strength to be performed correctly and it is very easy to injure yourself if you move into it too soon. If you do not yet have the strength to do the pose in proper alignment, practice Half Chaturanga or Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana) until you can support your full body weight correctly. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Chaturanga is categorized as an arm balance because your arms bear most of your weight. It’s like a push-up, but with the elbows hugged in toward the body, and as such is a great arm strengthener. It takes a fair amount of strength to do this pose correctly, so don’t be in a rush to add it to your practice if you’re not ready, especially since you open yourself up to shoulder wear and tear if your alignment is off.
- Begin in Plank Pose. Keeping your elbows directly over your wrists, slowly lower your body to hover a few inches above the floor. Keep your back flat.
- Lift through your chest, keeping your shoulders in line with your elbows. Do not let your chest drop or sag toward the floor.
- Fully engage your abdominal and leg muscles.
- If the full pose is too challenging right now, come to your knees first. Then, lower your torso to hover an inch above the floor. This is Half Chaturanga.
- Do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Keep them hugged along your ribcage, pointed toward your heels.
- Press the base of your knuckles into the floor. Your upper and lower arms should be perpendicular, bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Do not let your shoulders drop lower than the height of your elbows.
- Hold for 10-30 seconds, and then lower your body all the way to the mat and rest. More experienced students can press back into Plank Pose. Those practicing Sun Salutations can press forward into Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
At first glance, Chaturanga looks similar to a fitness-based push-up. But there are important differences between the two. It’s crucial to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Remember don’t stick your buttocks up or let your shoulders collapse any lower than your elbows.
Four Limbed Staff Pose for Beginners
Chaturanga is an excellent core and arm strengthener when practiced correctly. However, it takes time to gain enough strength to hold the pose for more than a breath or two. Take it slowly and be careful not to strain your arms, wrists, elbows, or shoulders.
- Practice Half Chaturanga until you have built up enough strength to fully support your body with your arms. Drop your knees to the floor before bending your elbows until you build enough strength to support your whole body with the arms.
- If Half Chaturanga is difficult, practice Knees-Chest-Chin Pose (Ashtanga Namaskara) until you have built up enough strength for Half Chaturanga.
Four Limbed Staff Pose for Advanced
Since it’s such a challenging pose, even experienced students will be unlikely to require a more advanced version. Try these simple changes to find the variation that is suitable for you:
- As a challenge for stronger students, place a bolster or folded blanket on the floor beneath your body in Plank Pose. Lower your body so it hovers just slightly above the prop while in Chaturanga.
- More advanced students can come into the pose by starting in Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog (with one leg lifted in the air), moving into Three-Legged Plank Pose, and then finally into Three-Legged Chaturanga. Keep the same leg lifted the entire time, as you move forward into Three-Legged Upward-Facing Dog, and back into Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog.
- If you feel comfortable in one-legged plank, try moving into chaturanga while keeping your leg lifted. Bend your knee and lift your foot toward your head for a Scorpion Pose (Vrschikasana).
Align with True Power
Practicing Chaturanga correctly requires an understanding of the true heart of yoga. Although the pose demands strength, you can’t simply conquer it through sheer force and muscular effort. Instead, it takes patience and a willingness to accept your current circumstances, in order to build the strength necessary for the full expression of the pose. Let go of the desire for outcomes and focus on the present moment, instead. The essence of Chaturanga is demonstrated in your ability to flow with all of life’s challenges, both on and off the mat. Once you can flow, you will find true power in the pose.